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Tampa VA Veteran Gives Another Chance at Life

Krystal Catalano and staff host event table for Tampa VA’s Donor Day.
Krystal Catalano and staff host event table for Tampa VA’s Donor Day.

“None of us knows when or if we’re going to need an organ,” said Krystal Catalano, Tampa VA Case Manager and facility coordination lead in partnering with LifeLink of Florida.

Catalano recently hosted Tampa VA's National Donor Day alongside representatives from LifeLink of Florida to advance educational objectives as part of the DoNation program—a national initiative driven by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to increase donor registration throughout the country. Donor Day was a highlight of the donor awareness campaign Catalano started last year that focuses on the importance of organ donation with Donate Life Florida.

“We’re all stakeholders,” said Catalano. “This partnership helps create and maintain access to care.”

“There are misconceptions and myths, and a lot of education needs to be offered.”

Not many days before, a deceased Veteran’s wish to donate his organs served as the perfect exemplar of the importance of organ donations. Tampa VA coordinated with LifeLink of Florida which is the organ procurement organization responsible for facilitating organ and tissue donation for 15 counties in west Florida, including Hillsborough County.

LifeLink of Florida works with hospitals like James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital to save and improve lives through organ and tissue donation, and that’s what they did when the need arose.

The donation process involves a highly coordinated series of required diagnostic tests and procedures that determine if organ recovery is possible. To optimize the impending transplant surgery, labs were done, pertinent physicians were informed, a bronchoscopy was performed, and vital signs were monitored. The team had to maintain perfect homeostasis to maintain the integrity of the organs. When the patient was pronounced, the team procured viable organs. 

To ultimately complete the numerous required labs, radiology exams, bronchoscopy, cardiac echocardiogram, and cardiac catheterization that Saturday, Tampa VA’s medical teams had to be notified and staged promptly.

Because many of the unit clinicians who were caring for the Veteran had participated in organ donations and transplants before, they expected that the organs would be viable for another person.

Ron Della Valle Nurse Manager shared the teams’ optimism.

“Initially, our Medical and Surgical teams and Medical and Surgical ICU cared for this Veteran throughout his clinical support here, provided care to him and his family as his condition worsened and through the determination of death,” said Della Valle.

Samantha O’Connell is a nurse who was on duty with the care team that night. “I’m glad we were able to do something so good for something so tragic,” O’Connell said. “Organ donations aren’t common here due to comorbidities.”

“The donation went flawlessly. Documentation was good and the operating room staff moved in the right direction after the patient was pronounced. We immediately went into procuring the organs in line with the Veteran’s wishes,” said Della Valle.

From the night of the inevitable, into the decedent’s honor walk, the family was there and many other support staff and organizations were on hand. The process started the day before.

Tampa VA contacted LifeLink, as is done for all Veteran deaths. LifeLink representatives met with the family, who supported the Veteran's donation decision. 

Services were called in to assess organ viability. His kidneys were viable. One kidney went to the Veteran’s nephew and the other went to a recipient in Florida.

“In 2023, thanks to generous donors and their families, 340 organ donors provided 891 organs for transplant. We are thankful to our hospital partners for supporting the Donate Life mission and grateful to individuals and their families who make selfless decisions to give hope to others in need,” said Kristen Miranda, LifeLink Foundation Sr. Public Affairs Coordinator.

One organ donor can save eight lives, and that same donor can improve up to 75 more lives. Research shows that 90% of the population agrees with organ donation, but 60% are registered. 

“The only place that routinely asks about donor registration is the DMV. We’re a medical facility and should have a program like this. Being the first medical center in our VISN to have a partnership like this is important,” Catalano said. 

“'Ethical Demand Management' is a case management term that means we provide care at the right time and place. This concept supports ethical principles of healthcare, including care to support organ donation,” Catalano said.

More than 103,000 people need a lifesaving transplant in the U.S. today, and 5,000 of those waiting are in Florida, according to the United Network for Organ Donation (UNOS), the organization that manages the national transplant waiting list and helps match organ donations to children and adults who need them. 

To learn more and follow the example of this Veteran, join Florida’s organ, eye, and tissue donor registry visit

If you want to know more about Tampa VA’s DoNation program, please contact Krystal Catalano at